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Running Away From the Comfort Zone

For a long time during my recovery and healing from an eating disorder, I was not able to run, because I had abused exercise. But today, healthy and healed, I run when I feel like it and because I enjoy it.

This morning, my run reinforced an important principle for me – one that shows up in so many places in life: in recovery, relationships, sport, school and at work. Namely, that when pursuing a goal, no matter how positive and enthusiastic we begin, the first charge up the hill can be difficult.

It can make us lose sight of the benefits of the hard work involved, and we’re tempted to give up. But, when we persevere through the initial setbacks and fight the negative thinking, the moment passes, and we’re back again to feeling hopeful, exuberant, and motivated to succeed.

woman enjoying a walk

However, it is one thing to read about this principle, and a whole other thing to experience it in your body. We can hear “don’t give up when the going gets tough,” and read all kinds of encouraging messages, but trying to actually live it out is where the work happens – or doesn’t.

I haven’t run outside in a month or so, and woke up to a gorgeous, fresh summer morning. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and I felt alive with tons of energy. I just wanted to get out into the forest and explore nature, feel the air in my lungs, and run! I slipped on my sneakers and headed out the door.

The first minute or so was wonderful. About five minutes in, the negative thoughts began. This is hard; my legs are sore; maybe I should just walk; this was a bad idea; maybe I should go back to bed.

However, I observed the thoughts as they came in, and as usual, I checked them with the reality of the situation. I had enjoyed a good night’s rest, my body was fueled up with sufficient nutrients, I had no injuries, and am in good cardiovascular shape. There was no reason why I couldn’t do it. And I had started so positive! What was the deal?

I knew though, that to get to the place where I was building strength and really enjoying the run, I’d have to push past those initial doubts, when I felt like giving up. That “challenging” moment lasted about three minutes, tops. Not so bad! Soon afterward, I was back to feeling the oxygen in my lungs, the sun shine on my face, and the joy of my feet carrying me through beautiful woods, past ponds, and wildflowers. Bliss. I was reminded of how important it is for me to push past that initial “UGH” feeling five minutes into a run, to get to this good part: where I am overwhelmed by gratitude for my heart, lungs and legs, for God’s creation, for the health to be able to enjoy a run rather than abuse it. I was incredibly glad I didn’t give up and turn around when it got tough at the beginning.

Shortly after my run was finished, I realized how this principle applied in basically every other area of my life. When pursuing our goals, especially recovery, we can start with good intentions, but when the reality of the hard work involved sets in, it can be easy to throw up our hands, decide it isn’t really worth it any way, and return to our comfort zone.

But no growth happens in our comfort zone.

So here is my passionate encouragement to you, a gift from my run this morning. Recovery, pursuing change and transformation can be hard at the beginning. Excruciating, in fact. But the pain of change, the fear of taking the leap of faith doesn’t last forever. It is a blip on the radar of life. It is temporary. It does indeed pass, allowing you to experience the joy of both the change, as well as the personal pride for having actually persevered and not given up.

It can be easier said than done, I know. I know because I “gave up” loads of times because I didn’t believe the end goal – recovery – was possible, or worth the effort. But once I saw the evidence in other recovered women’s lives, and believed that it WAS possible, and I COULD do it, I found the strength to persevere through those most challenging first moments. And life on the other side is more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.

Yes, the first part of your run to recovery is going to be tough. But it is temporary. And there is no challenge in your life that will be more worth the effort.

About Kirsten Haglund

“Since my own recovery, I am passionate about educating and empowering women to get the care they need to live amazing, productive and healthy lives,” said Haglund. “I see the same compassion and desire in the Timberline Knolls team and look forward to being a part of this work of restoring women to health.”

Haglund will continue to work as an advocate for greater awareness of eating disorders and resources for care. Since she won the crown of Miss America 2008, she has spoken on more than 20 college campuses, worked with youth and church groups domestically and abroad, lobbied Congress with the Eating Disorders Coalition, and started her own non-profit, the Kirsten Haglund Foundation, to raise funds and assist families financially in seeking treatment for eating disorders.

View all posts by Kirsten Haglund